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Boycott Canada? Oh Really, O’Reilly!
by Aaron Goldstein
05 May 2004Canadian Flag

This writer believes that the United States’ relationship to Canada is too important to resort to a boycott no matter how well intentioned.

Last year, Bill O’Reilly made headlines when he called upon Americans to boycott France due to the efforts of the French government to undermine international support to rid the world of Saddam Hussein at the United Nations.  The French government has always had a cozy relationship with Saddam, but in light of the UN Oil for Food Scandal -- where it appears that French politicians and businessmen were bribed by Saddam -- the boycott appears to be richly deserved.    

For my own part, I supported O’Reilly’s call for a boycott of France.  Mind you, all that really meant for me was not buying Evian or Volvic bottled water.   But it was the principle of the matter.

Now O’Reilly is at it again this time, taking aim at Canada.    O’Reilly has been teed off with the Canadian government for some time for a number of reasons.  He has been critical of their liberal immigration and refugee policies, their unwillingness to address the growing number of terror cells from al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas, that have taken root on Canadian soil, as well as their refusal to send troops to Iraq.

However, when two American soldiers deserted from the Army to seek asylum in Canada, O’Reilly had enough.  He was piqued at how the Canadian media (specifically the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the Toronto Globe and Mail) have lionized the deserters. He has warned Canadians that he will call for a boycott if the Canadian government grants their request for asylum.    

The Government of Canada does not take terrorism as seriously as it should, and granting asylum to army deserters who ought to be before a military court sends a terrible message.  Yet at the same time I believe Americans should ignore O’Reilly, should he decide to add Canada to his blacklist.

Before I go any further I should disclose that I was born and raised in Canada. In fact, I lived in Canada for more than a quarter century before moving to the United States a little over four years ago.  I consider the United States to be my home but most of the people I know (especially family) and most of what I have learned is north of the border.  So yes, I have a dog in this fight.

I believe Americans should ignore any call boycott to Canada for two reasons.  

First of all, any boycott would do as much harm to the United States as it would to Canada.  After all, the largest trading partner of the United States is not Great Britain or Japan but Canada.    There would not have been a North American Free Trade Agreement or a Free Trade Agreement of the Americas if not for the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement that came into effect in 1989.  Billions of dollars worth of goods and services are exchanged through the Canada-United States border.  Millions of jobs in both countries are dependent on our unique trade relationship.  Every day 37,000 trucks cross the Canada-United States border in each direction.  How many jobs in the transportation industry would be lost if Americans started boycotting Canadian goods and services?  What about lost opportunities in other industries?

If you think Canada does not matter to the United States, did you know that according to the United States Department of Commerce, in 2003 the United States exported over $169 billion of goods and services to Canada?    With that level of business in Canada one would think that the United States government would be content.  But if one looks at the website of the International Trade Administration (a section of the Commerce Department), between now and June there are three trade missions scheduled to take place in Canada – two in Toronto and one in Vancouver.    In fact, next week there will be a Plastics Trade Mission where U.S. companies will have the “ideal opportunity to become familiar with business opportunities in Canada, our number one export market in the world.”    The plastics industry in Canada is a $22.5 billion a year (USD) business. Next month’s Explore B.C. trade show gives American companies as much access to Asian markets as it does to Canadian markets, as many Asian firms have offices in Vancouver.  As for Canadian exports to the United States, according to Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, the United States received $245.8 billion (Cdn) worth of exports from Canada.

Second, while O’Reilly posts letters from some Canadians who claim they are afraid of their government, Canada is a healthy and vibrant democracy.  While the Government of Canada has certainly demonstrated anti-American inclinations, these actions are not supported by the entire Canadian populace.  Indeed, a majority of Canadians polled expect Canada to assist the United States in times of war, including the current war in Iraq. Could this be why Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin is in the United States visiting with President Bush?  Undoubtedly, Martin is trying to distance himself from his predecessor Jean Chretien, who did everything he could to be a thorn in the side of the Bush Administration.    

Keep in mind, that there will very likely be a federal election in Canada in a matter of months.  While Martin has credibility with the Canadian electorate and Wall Street alike for eliminating Canada’s deficit while he was Finance Minister in the 1990’s,  the Liberal Party is not guaranteed re-election under his stewardship.    The Liberal Party has been embroiled in a scandal involving party members receiving large government contracts under the auspices of promoting “national unity,” only to line their own pockets.   Martin will face a strong challenge from the newly united Conservative Party under the leadership of Stephen Harper, who wants a closer relationship with the U.S.   Also keep in mind, the Liberals may also lose votes to the socialist New Democratic Party (NDP) amongst those who believe the Liberals aren’t left-wing (read anti-American) enough under Martin.  Paradoxically, a vote for the NDP might turn out to be a vote for the Conservatives, and we could see a new government not only friendlier to Washington but to the sentiments of Canada’s silent majority.  The point is that Canadians are more than capable of changing their governments.    Canada may be red but it is no Cuba. Thus a boycott is unnecessary and would only serve to anger Canadians who might otherwise agree with O’Reilly, but do not want to be painted with the same brush.

Boycotts can be very effective when employed strategically and for very specific purposes.  Indeed, O’Reilly was careful to exempt from the boycott French companies that operated inside the United States and employed Americans.   However, boycotts should not be utilized as a one size fits all solution to disputes with our allies.    For all of the Canadian government’s missteps it should be acknowledged that they have sent money and a small number of troops to Afghanistan.   Indeed, four Canadian soldiers were killed by two American air force pilots in a friendly fire incident.  It should also be remembered that it was Canadians who opened their doors to Americans and to the world when hundreds of airlines were diverted to Canada on 9/11. Gander, Newfoundland saw its population double in a single afternoon.   

The United States’ relationship to Canada is too important to resort to a boycott no matter how well intentioned.  For Americans to boycott Canada would be to cut off our noses to spite our faces.

Aaron Goldstein, a former member of the socialist New Democratic Party, writes poetry and has a chapbook titled Oysters and the Newborn Child: Melancholy and Dead Musicians. His poetry can be viewed on www.poetsforthewar.org.

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